Error-Free: An Analysis of an Excerpt from To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite - файл n1.doc

Error-Free: An Analysis of an Excerpt from To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite
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To Sir, With Love is a 1959 autobiographical novel by E.R. Braithwaite, a Guyanese novelist, writer, and diplomat, best known for his stories of social conditions and racial discrimination against black people. Set in the East End of London, the novel is based on true events concerned with Braithwaite taking up a teaching position in a school there. Today, his writing style would be considered somewhat formal and dated, although still extremely effective in holding the reader’s attention.

The text is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite and tells the story of a black teacher from British Guiana, who is beginning his teaching position at an East End school in London, where the students more than live up to their reputation of being an unruly mob who view the classroom as their domain. As the students' antics progress from ignoring the new teacher in their Weekly Review essays to silent treatment to disruptive behavior to distasteful pranks, the teacher retains his calm manner and resists being baited, but eventually succumbing to the students' provocations, leaves the classroom to sit alone in the school library.

The text is a straightforward piece of narration presented through the teacher’s first-person perspective. However, it also includes occasional quoted material as spoken by his students and the school principal. The text may be split into two segments. The first segment is concerned with the description of the principal’s Weekly Review, while the second segment focuses on the teacher’s struggle with his class.  The segments may be entitled “The Weekly Review at an East End School” and “A Black Teacher Tries to Win the Trust of his White Class” respectively.

The first segment contains the setting—the school and the students who are allowed to comment on their teachers’ work in their Weekly Reviews.  It is a static part of the text that contains no action. The second segment introduces the conflict (a black teacher trying to get through to his unruly white students), the rising action (as reflected in the gradual deterioration of the student’s treatment of their teacher), and finally the climax, where the teacher, unable to tolerate his students’ disrespect, retreats to the school library.

The tone of the first segment is a mixture of sarcasm and matter-of-factness. The author’s sarcasm is evident in his use of the metaphor “pet schemes” with reference to the principal’s Weekly Review, in addition to his use of the term “the old man” with reference to the principal himself. Notably, these terms are informal. The rest of the section is a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact description of the Weekly Review written in neutral and slightly formal prose. “He would brook no interference,” “safe from any form of reprisal,” “it is of advantage to both pupil and teacher,” “follow and observe his progress,” “observe the trend of individual and collective interests,” “plan his work accordingly” are all examples of the slightly formal word choice employed by the author in this segment. It is significant that this slightly formal language contrasts sharply with the author’s informal terms associated with the principal and his approach to teaching. The first segment is brimming with vocabulary related to teaching and education: “school,” “pre-recess,” “writing,” “review,” “comment,” “criticize,” “subject,” “method,” “pupils,” “teacher,” “headmaster,” “spelling,” “[sentence] construction,” and more. This profusion of such words helps the author to firmly establish the setting in only two paragraphs.

The tone of the second segment is rather personal and emotional, since it traces the early stages of the teacher’s personal journey to win his students’ favor. With the help of personification (“day followed day in painful procession”), metaphor (“trying to reach the children through a thick pane of glass”), and simile (“. . . as transient as my many predecessors”), the author allows us to re-live the black teacher’s struggle and helplessness. A multitude of epithets, including “blackie teacher,” “silent treatment,” ”noisy treatment,” “bloody,” “bleeding,” “ugly viciousness,” serves to further illustrate the huge dimensions of the rift between the black teacher and his students. Toward the end of the segment, near and after the climax, the mood shifts to one of mingled desperation and exasperation: “I was so overcome by anger and disgust that I completely lost my temper . . . ,” “I felt sick at heart . . . ,” “everything they said and did was coloured by an ugly viciousness.”  In addition, the vocabulary of the second segment ranges from semi-informal to neutral to semi-formal/high-flown. Notable examples of the latter type include “transient,” “predecessor,” “procession,” “thereafter,” “culprit,” “decency,” “viciousness,” “inveigle.” Such words contribute to the teacher’s image as an eloquent, highly educated, but underappreciated, character. The author also continues to introduce more vocabulary related to teaching and learning: “class,” “classroom,” “lessons,” “desk,” “library,” “period,” “arithmetic.”

As a skillful writer, Braithwaite employs varied sentence structure: He uses all sentence types to enrich his writing style and make it more entertaining. However, his use of syntax also serves very specific purposes. The author gives two descriptions of the Weekly Review. The first description is given by the teacher, and the second by the principal. The first description is short and concise. This is achieved through the use of repetition and parallelism to correlate successive phrases within the sentence, making the description intense and dynamic: “Each child would review the events of his school week in his own words, in his own way; he was free to comment, to criticise, to agree or disagree, with any person, subject, or method, as long as it was in some way associated with the school.” In contrast, the principal’s description runs on for too long, giving him the impression of being a rambling character and completing the teacher’s skeptical attitude toward “the old man’s pet schemes.” Another notable example of the author’s skillful use of syntax may be observed in the teacher’s rhetorical questions at the end of the excerpt, which are not unlike pleas for help: “Why, oh why, did they behave like that? What was wrong with them?” These rhetorical questions leave readers with unanswered questions, resulting in a cliffhanger but also hope for a successful resolution.

Although the principal’s character is underdeveloped, we can safely assume that he is the sort of person who likes experiments. His latest experiment is the Weekly Review, and he describes it in great detail. In fact, his description takes an almost full half page, which likely points to his propensity for conversation, even if rambling conversation.  The black teacher’s character is exceptionally well fleshed out, considering the scanty length of the excerpt. From the excerpt, we learn three important facts about the teacher. First, the teacher does not seem particularly fond of the principal; it is probable that the principal, like the students, does not hold the teacher in high regard due to his skin color. Second, the teacher seems devoted to his work and wants to get through to his students despite their resistance. Third, he is highly educated and willing to work hard to seek solutions to the problems that arise in his life. 

To sum up, this excerpt represents Braithwaite’s autobiographical account of his struggle, as an impassioned teacher, against his contemporary racist society. Braithwaite’s belief was that moral and social education led to success in all areas, including academics. Therefore, all teachers—especially those who share this belief—will enjoy reading this book written by a teacher who, despite hatred and prejudice, still managed to touch the lives of others.
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